History of Japan

account of past events in the Japanese civilisation
(Redirected from Heian Period)

The History of Japan has old texts (things people have written) that go back to the 8th century AD, but archaeologists have found proof of people living in Japan for the last several thousand years from the time when the last Ice age ended.


Sannai-Maruyama site Aomori Japan.Jomon period. Around 5000 years before

The first period of Japan's history is its prehistory, before the written history. Archeologists have found pottery from that time. Japan’s Paleolithic era covers a period from around 100,000 BC to around 12,000 BC. Archeologists have found some polished tools made of stones. Some of them are kept in Tokyo National Museum. These tools are more than 32,000 years old.

Jomon Period

Jōmon Pottery British Museumo

The Jomon period lasted for about 10,000 years, from 10,000 BC to around 300 BC. This was the Mesolithic era for Japan. Some scholars say that during this period, Neolithic culture also developed in Japan.

Archeologists have found several pieces of pottery of that time. Some are clay figures and some are vessels and potteries of different shapes.

Yayoi Period

Storage Jar, 500 BC - 200 AD, Japan,Yayoi period

The Yayoi period covered about 550 years, from around 300 BC till around 250. The name came from a location in Tokyo.[1]

By that time, Japanese people had learnt the cultivation of rice, and agriculture became the main part of the Japanese society. Because of this, differences in social status started to occur.

Different clans controlled different areas and they also fought among themselves. Some Chinese texts tell about this time. These texts describe Japan as Wa. Later, the Yamatai came into being when about 30 parts of Japan of that time united under a queen named Himiko.

Ancient and Classical Japan


The Ancient and Classical period covers about 900 years, beginning from the mid-3rd century till the end of the 12th century.

Kofun period


The period from the mid-3rd century until the mid-6th century is known as the Kofun period.

Kofun is a large tomb and people who had social power were buried in them. Buddhism had not reached Japan by this time. Kofuns were made in many places. This fact lets us to know that many social groups all around the country made up an authority, and this leads to the Yamato dynasty.

The Yamato dynasty started to take more action against Korea and China. In the 4th century, they started to advance to Korea to get iron. By this, cultures and technologies of Korea and China started to be introduced to Japan. They also fought with Goguryeo and Silla, which are countries in Korea. In the 5th century, the five kings of Wa made effort to have relationship with China.

Asuka period


Tthe Asuka period was from mid-6th century till around 710. Asuka is the base of Yamato dynasty. Buddhism had reached Japan.

Prince Shotoku with Two Princes by Kano Osanobu 1842

From the end of the 6th century to the early 7th century, Empress Suiko and her nephew Prince Shotoku changed the political system so that the emperor got power. They also sent missions to the Sui Dynasty.

The trend of centralization still continues. In 645, the Taika Reforms takes place, and the political system changes a lot.

In 663, Japan fought with the Tang Dynasty and Silla (Battle of Baekgang), but lost.

In 672, the Jinshin war occurs and Prince Ōama becomes the emperor. In his era, Japan starts to make a Chinese style law system (Ritsuryo). Also, the word Nippon which means "Japan" in Japanese, was started to be used in the era of Tenmu.

Nara period


From the year 707, steps were taken to shift the capital to Heijō-kyō, a place near present-day Nara. This was completed in 710. A new city was built. The city was built to look like the Chinese capital city of that time. At that time, the Tang Dynasty was ruling China, and the capital was at Chang'an (now Xi'an).

During the Nara period, development was slow. The Emperor’s family members were always fighting for power with the Buddhists and other groups. At that time, Japan had friendly relations with Korea and China’s Tang Dynasty. The capital was shifted twice. In 784, the capital was moved to Nagaoka and in 794 to Kyoto.

The first Japanese book was written in 712, the Kojiki. The second Japanese book written was in 720, the Nihon Shoki.

Heian period

Fragment of an emaki from the 12th century Genji Monogatari. Copy written in Kana

The years from 794 to 1185 are known as the Heian period. It is named after city of Heian-kyō, which is the early name of present-day Kyoto.[2] The Heian period produced many cultural achievements, such as the Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. The power of the Japanese imperial court (that is, the Emperor, his ministers and other important persons) rose. This period is also famous for its art, poetry and literature. The language used in this period was called Late Old Japanese. The writing systems known as Kana emerged at this time.[3][4] By the end of the 12th century, a number of groups came into being. These groups were highly armed and they fought among themselves. The situation was like a civil war, that is, war among different sections of society. Finally, groups of people called Samurai led society under the political rule of a Shogun. The Heian Period ended due to the Genpei War.

Feudal Japan


The period from around the 12th century to the 19th century is called feudal period in the history of Japan. The Japanese Emperor was the head of the government, but he had no real power. Many powerful families (called daimyo and military groups called shogun) ruled Japan during this period. The feudal period of Japan is generally sub-divided into different periods named after the shogunate which ruled during that period.

Kamakura period


The years 1185 to 1333 are known as the Kamakura period.[5] This is named after city of Kamakura which was the center of power of the Kamakura shogunate. Minamoto no Yoritomo was the founder and first shogun of the Kamakura shogunate. Mongols tried to invade Japan between the years 1272 and 1281. Japanese were successful at driving away the Mongols.[6] But, this badly affected Japan. Shogunate also became weak and its rule ended in 1333. For a short time, Go Daigo became the emperor of Japan.

Muromachi period


The Muromachi period began in 1336 and ended in 1573. Emperor Go-Daigo lost his throne. The government of the Ashikaga shogunate took control of most of Japan. This period ended in 1573. In that year the 15th and the last shogun named Ashikaga Yoshiaki was forced to leave the capital Kyōto.

In 1542, a Portuguese ship reached Japan and made the first direct contact with European culture, including the knowledge of firearms. In the next few years, merchants and also some Christian missionaries from European countries, mainly Portugal, the Netherlands, England, and Spain, reached Japan.

Azuchi-Momoyama period


Azuchi-Momoyama period covers the years from 1568 to 1600. During these years, different parts of Japan became united again. Japan's military power grew. In 1592, Japan wanted to conquer China. At that time China was ruled by the Ming Dynasty. Toyotomi Hideyoshi was one of the main leaders of Japan. He sent an army of 160,000 samurai to Korea. The Japanese could not win and retreated back to Japan. In 1597, Japan again sent an army to Korea. In 1598, Toyotomi Hideyoshi died. After his death, the Japanese dropped the idea of conquering Korea and China.

The Japanese brought many Koreans to Japan. They were very good at making pottery and at other arts. Some of them were very educated. Japan gained new information and knowledge from the Koreans.

Yaita Kinbee Kiyosada, the Japanese blacksmith who was ordered to copy and reverse engineer Portuguese matchlock muskets could not make the screw properly himself and had to give his 16-year-old daughter Wakasa in marriage to a Portuguese man in exchange for the Portuguese teaching him to build the muskets. Today Japanese in Tageshima regard Wakasa as a heroine for giving herself to a Portuguese man in exchange for teaching how to screw the end of the musket barrel. A statue was built in her honour as well as candy, restaurants and boast named after her.[7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14]

Japanese prostitutes were required to prove they were not Christian in order to work in prostitution by the Tokugawa government.[15][16]

Edo period

A group of Samurai

During the Edo period, Japan had many small rulers. There were about 200 of them. They were called daimyo, and they were all ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate which was led by the Tokugawa clan. The shogunate's capital moved to Edo, modern-day Tokyo. Fifteen shoguns controlled the Tokugawa shogunate during the Edo Period.

Tôjin-yashiki, the Chinese merchant colony on a square island was south of Dejima where the Dutch merchants were. Japanese prostitutes from the Maruyama red light district of Nagasaki visited both the Dutch and Chinese men to have sex with them. Japanese artists drew erotic paintings of the foreign men having seen with Japanese women.[17][18][19][20][21][22]

Japanese peasant men were not required to kill wives who committed adultery but samurai were.[23] The majority of the Japanese people in this period were townspeople, fisher people or peasant commoners and they did not take adultery, virginity or paternity of their children as serious issues unlike the samurai families. Japanese commoner women and men mixed with each other and had out of wedlock or bastard children through adultery and they made up the majority of prostitutes.[24] Japanese commoners did not have surnames until the Meiji restoration in the 19th century.

The Edo period is a very important period in the history of Japan. The main developments include:

  • Samurai became the highest group in Japanese society. Farmers, artisans, and merchants were lower than the Samurai.
  • Common persons were organised in groups of five. If any one of them made any mistake or did anything wrong, all five persons were responsible.
  • New artistic movements and forms of theatre. Ukiyo-e wood-block printing was invented. New forms of theatre included kabuki and bunraku theatres.
  • Trade and commerce continued to rise during the Edo period.

In 1867, the Tokugawa Shogunate returned its political power to the emperor. The emperor did not know how to rule the country because the last time the emperor had power was 500 years before. So, the shogunate still remained in authority.

In 1868, the Boshin War occurred between the Japanese emperor and the Tokugawa shogunate. Japan again came under the actual rule of an emperor as the Tokugawa shogunate was defeated.



Beginning from the early 17th century, the Tokugawa shogunate followed a policy of seclusion, known as sakoku in Japanese language. They suspected that traders, merchants, and missionaries from Europe wanted to bring Japan under the control of European powers. All traders and missionaries from other countries were forced to leave Japan, except for the Dutch, the Koreans, and the Chinese. Even during the period of seclusion, the Japanese continued to gain information and knowledge about other parts of the world.

This policy of seclusion lasted for about 200 years until it ended under American military force. On July 8th 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States Navy reached Edo with four warships. The ships were heavily armed and their guns pointed towards the city. After this display of American military power, Japan was forced to agree to trade with other countries. The Japanese called these ships the kurofune or the Black Ships.

Next year, on March 31st 1854, Perry came with seven ships and the Japanese signed a treaty (known as the Convention of Kanagawa) that established a diplomatic relationship with the United States. Another treaty (known as the Harris Treaty) was signed with the United States on July 29th 1858. This treaty gave more facilities to foreigners coming to Japan and expanded trade with Japan. Many Japanese were not happy with reopening diplomatic relations and trade with other countries.

"For years several countries have applied for trade, but you have opposed them on account of a national law. You have thus acted against divine principles and your sin cannot be greater than it is. What we say does not necessarily mean, as has already been communicated by the Dutch boat, that we expect mutual trade by all means. If you are still to disagree we would then take up arms and inquire into the sin against the divine principles, and you would also make sure of your law and fight in defence. When one considers such an occasion, however, one will realize the victory will naturally be ours and you shall by no means overcome us. If in such a situation you seek for a reconciliation, you should put up the white flag that we have recently presented to you, and we would accordingly stop firing and conclude peace with you, turning our battleships aside." -Commodore Perry

After Commodore Perry's visit, Japan began to deliberately accept Western culture to the point of hiring Westerners to teach Western customs and traditions to the Japanese. Many Japanese politicians have since also encouraged the Westernization of Japan using the term Datsu-A Ron, which means the argument for "leaving Asia" or "Good-bye Asia". In Datsu-A Ron, "Westernization" was described as an "unavoidable" but "fruitful" change. After Japan's surrender to the United States and its allies ended World War II, the Westernization process of Japanese culture was further intensified and today, Japan is among the most Westernized countries in Asia.[25]

Meiji Restoration


The Meiji Restoration is an important period of history of Japan. Emperor Meiji ruled Japan and regained power from the shogunate. The Meiji Restoration began with the Boshin War of 1868. Emperor Meiji wanted Japan to become Westernized. Many changes occurred in Japan’s government and culture.

The Iwakura Mission or Iwakura Embassy was a Japanese diplomatic voyage to the United States and Europe conducted between 1871 and 1873 by leading statesmen and scholars of the Meiji period. Although it was not the only such mission, it is the most well-known and possibly most significant in terms of its impact on the modernization of Japan after a long period of isolation from the West. The mission was first proposed by the influential Dutch missionary and engineer Guido Verbeck.[26]

Many Japanese buildings, products and planes were copies of western ones like the Tokyo dome of 1988 which copied the 1981 Metrodome, the Japanese DSK A 25 in 1954 which copied the BMW's R 25 of 1951, the Japanese zero fighter of 1939 which copied the Gloster F.5/34 of 1937 and the Toshiba vacuum cleaner of 1931 which copied GE's electric cleaner of 1928 and Seiki's Nippon camera of 1941 which copied Leica Illa's camera of 1935 and Shigeru Mizuki's rocketman in 1958 which copied DC Comics superman of 1938.[27][28] The "Japanese" military planes Kawasaki Ki-5, Kawasaki Army Type 92 and Kawasaki Army Type 88 were designed by aircraft engineer Richard Vogt, a German.

The Japanese let volunteers from Okinawa into their army since 1890 and in 1898 Okinawa was given universal military conscription and were parts of all arms of the Japanese military, unlike Koreans where there was no conscription until the very last year of World War II since the Japanese did not trust Koreans unlike Okinawans.[29] Taiwanese were also distrusted by the Japanese, with volunteers from Taiwan only allowed in 1942 and conscription only implemented in 1945.[30][31]

Wars with China and Russia


At the end of the 19th century, many Japanese believed that Japan needed to expand in order to face Western foreign powers. This resulted in wars with its neighboring counties. In 1894-1895, Japan and China had a war. Another war took place with Russia in 1904-1905. Japan became a world power after these wars. Russian influence continued to grow inside China.

Anglo-Japanese Alliance


By the beginning of the 20th century, Russian influence was increasing in China. Japan and the United Kingdom used to get economic and other benefits from their relationship with China. Japan and the United Kingdom did not like Russia’s growing influence in China. Japan and the United Kingdom formed a military alliance, called the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, on January 30th 1902. Russia was not happy at this type of agreement between Japan and the United Kingdom. Russia tried to form a similar military alliance with Germany and France. On March 6th 1902, Russia formed a military alliance with France but not Germany.

The Russo-Japanese War began between Japan and Russia. Japan won the Russo-Japanese War. The United States mediated the peace negotiations between Japan and Russia. Japan got a number of concessions. In 1910, Japan invaded and annexed Korea.

Chinese bandits called Honghuzi fought against Japan or Russia in the Russo-Japanese war.[32]

World War I


In 1914, the First World War broke out. Japan also entered the war. It attacked several places (of East Asia), which were colonies of Germany. After the war ended in 1919, Japan developed very fast. It became one of the major powers of Asia.

World War II


Japanese in Canada were interned as potential fifth columnists.[33][34][35][36][37][38][39][40] Japanese in Australia were also interned as potential fifth columnists.[41][42][43][44][45][46][47] Latin American countries like Peru also expelled their Japanese residents to the US to be interned during the war.[48][49][50][51][52] Mexico also interned Japanese.[53][54]

A huge proportion of Japanese Brazilians were pro Axis and some engaged in terrorist activities to sabotage Allied war efforts. Many Japanese even suffered mass delusion when the war ended and believed that Japan had won the war and that the Allied fleet was wiped out.[55]

Japanese Americans were funding the Japanese military before the Pearl Harbor attack.[56][57]

Before the beginning of the Second World War, Japan was fighting with China. This is called Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). According to the United States government's Department of State's Office of the Historian, the US did nothing to help China against the Japanese from 1937 to 1940 when Japan and China were engaged in total war. US officials and policymakers did not want to help. Japan's military obtained the majority of its iron, steel and oil from the United States between 1937 and 1940. The treaty of commerce between the United States and Japan continued until January 1940 and even then the United States did not embargo Japan right away. The United States only began giving aid to China after 1940 when Japan and China already fought for three years.[58] When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Japan went to the side of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The fighting continued for 4 years. When the USA dropped the first atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan accepted defeat and surrendered in 1945.

Japan launched a surprise attack on the Clark Air Base in Pampanga on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Aerial bombardment was followed by landings of ground troops on Luzon. The defending Philippine and United States troops were under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. Under the pressure of superior numbers, the defending forces withdrew to the Bataan Peninsula and to the island of Corregidor at the entrance to Manila Bay.

On January 2, 1942, General MacArthur declared the capital city, Manila, an open city to prevent its destruction. The Philippine defense continued until the final surrender of United States-Philippine forces on the Bataan Peninsula in April 1942 and on Corregidor in May of the same year. Most of the 80,000 prisoners of war captured by the Japanese at Bataan were forced to undertake the infamous Bataan Death March to a prison camp 105 kilometers to the north. It is estimated that about 10,000 Filipinos and 1,200 Americans died before reaching their destination.

President Quezon and Osmeña had accompanied the troops to Corregidor and later left for the United States, where they set up a government in exile. MacArthur was ordered to Australia, where he started to plan for a return to the Philippines.

The Japanese military authorities immediately began organizing a new government structure in the Philippines and established the Philippine Executive Commission. They organized a Council of State, through which they directed civil affairs until October 1943, when they declared the Philippines an independent republic. The Japanese-sponsored republic headed by President José P. Laurel proved to be unpopular. Japanese occupation of the Philippines was opposed by large-scale underground and guerrilla activity. The Philippine Army, as well as remnants of the U.S. Army Forces Far East, continued to fight the Japanese in a guerrilla war. By the end of the war, Japan controlled only twelve of the forty-eight provinces. One element of resistance in the Central Luzon area was the Hukbalahap, which armed some 30,000 people and extended their control over much of Luzon.

The occupation of the Philippines by Japan ended at the war's conclusion. The American army had been fighting the Philippines Campaign since October 1944, when MacArthur's Sixth United States Army landed on Leyte. Landings in other parts of the country had followed, and the Allies, with the Philippine Commonwealth troops, pushed toward Manila. Fighting continued until Japan's formal surrender on September 2, 1945. The Philippines suffered great loss of life and tremendous physical destruction, especially during the Battle of Manila. About 1 million Filipinos had been killed, a large portion during the final months of the war, and Manila had been extensively damaged.

Occupied Japan


After the end of the Second World War, Japan came under international control. Japan became an important friend of the US when it entered into the Cold war with Korea. Over next few years, many political, economic and social changes took place. The Japanese Diet came into being. In 1951, USA and 45 other countries signed an agreement with Japan, and Japan again became an independent nation with full power (a country with full sovereignty) on 28th April 1952.

Japan experienced dramatic political and social transformation under the Allied occupation in 1945–1952. US General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers, served as Japan's de facto leader and played a central role in implementing reforms. As the new de facto ruler of Japan, Douglas MacArthur ordered the drafting of a new constitution for Japan in February 1946. So great was his influence in Japan that he has been called the Gaijin Shōgun

In 1946, at the request of the GHQ, the Shōwa Emperor (Hirohito) proclaimed in the Humanity Declaration that he had never been a divinity in human form, and claimed his relation to the people did not rely on such a mythological idea but on a historically developed family-like reliance. Since the 1947 constitution, the role of emperor has been relegated to a ceremonial head of state without even nominal political powers.[59]

The Deming Prize is the longest-running and one of the highest awards for Total Quality Management in the world. It recognizes both individuals for their contributions to the field of Total Quality Management and businesses that have successfully done it.[60] It was established in 1951 to honor W. Edwards Deming who contributed greatly to Japan’s quality control after World War II. His teachings helped Japan build product quality which has been recognized as the highest in the world. Over the years it has grown, under the guidance of the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers so it is now also available to non-Japanese companies, usually operating in Japan, and also to individuals recognized as having made major contributions to the advancement of quality. The awards ceremony is broadcast every year in Japan on national television.[61]

European visitors to Japan observed that the lower classes were a simple, crude, and child-like people. Public nudity was widespread with little shame, as was public spitting and urination. Bawdy jokes were uttered in public without batting an eye. This was in contrast to the aristocracy with their fine clothing and elaborate etiquette. Following the Meiji Restoration, public nudity and urination were banned in the bigger cities, where foreigners were most likely to visit, and various backward, barbaric, and disgusting religious rituals were outlawed. The upper class took to wearing Western clothing. For the commoners, traditional garb continued to be the norm. During the post-WWII occupation, Douglas MacArthur further took it upon himself to civilize Japan. The wearing of Western clothing for everyone was encouraged—for women, blouses, skirts, brassieres, and panties instead of kimonos, and for men, shirts, trousers, and boxer shorts. Japanese men traditionally wore a loincloth known as a fundosi, women generally wore nothing under their kimonos.

After the war, Japan received assistance and technology from the US and other countries of Europe. The progress was very rapid. For about 30 years, from around the 1950s to the 1980s, Japan grew very fast. It became one of the major economic powers of the world. When the UN forces were fighting in Korea during the Korean War, Japan was one of the major suppliers. This also helped Japan’s economy. By 1980s, Japan had become the world’s second largest economy, after the USA. At first, there was very close relationship between Japan and the USA. But, Japan’s economic might resulted in trade deficit for the USA. This phase of rapid development ended in the 1990s. Some historians have described this decade as the lost decade of Japanese economy. About 5 to 10 persons in 100 could not find any work.

Heisei era


Historians and sociologists call the recent era modern life. In Japanese, this is called the Heisei period. By 1989, Japan’s economy had become very large. Much development had taken place. In the Gulf war of 1991, Japan gave billions of dollars.

A 1973 article in the New York Times reported that Indonesians hated Japanese businessmen due to their practices and attitudes towards them.[62]

The Jewish American engineer Jerome Lemelson developed the camcorder and walkman audio recorder for the Japanese company Sony.[63][64][65][66][67][68][69][70][71]

Japan also faced some problems. In 1995, a big earthquake took place in Kobe. Another earthquake took place on 23rd October 2004 in Niigata Prefecture, and a very destructive tsunami damaged the north east coast in March 2011, causing a nuclear accident in Fukushima Prefecture.

The Heisei era was until April 30 2019. [72] [73]

Modern life (Reiwa era)


The current era in Japan is called the Reiwa era. It started in May 2019. [72] [73]


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